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the end is in sighT: A Mexican coastal sunset, shot over Spring Break, serves as a reminder that summer must be coming soon. / Photo by Shannon K. Johnson

Today's word on journalism

April 29, 2009

Swine Flu & Racism:

"Responsible members of the Republican Party need to speak out IMMEDIATELY against the conservative commentators in their own ranks using swine flu as an excuse to spew out racist hatred. Radio, TV and newspaper personalities have jumped on the illness as a platform to attack 'illegal aliens' for being responsible for carrying the disease across the Mexican border and infecting innocent Americans."

--Bonnie Fuller, Huffington Post blogger

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at


Feedback and suggestions --printable and otherwise --always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

A slice of life, arguing with Ph.D.s about Indiana Jones

By R.M. Monk

April 24, 2009 | So there I was, a lowly undergrad at an academic conference in New Orleans, presenting with Ph.D.s on a gender and media studies panel. All I could think was, "Don't screw this up."

I had somehow wangled my way into the 2009 joint conference of the National Popular Culture and American Culture Associations, and further wangled USU into footing the bill for airfare. It was meant to be a vacation in New Orleans. A real spring break to make up for the paltry one we were given in March -- honestly, how can you call it a spring break when there's still snow on the ground? But none of that mattered now, all I had to do was get through a day of schmoozing academics at this conference, talk big like I know a thing or two, and I'd be home free in a city with loose liquor laws.

It felt good not to be in Utah.

I presented what I thought was a decent paper on gender stereotypes in family action films, arguing that we allow male heroes to be tougher than their female counterparts. You know, like how we don't mind watching Indiana Jones take a punch, but our society has trouble watching Lara Croft get mangled. We simply don't let PG-13 heroines handle "real action."

After showing a handful of clips that got a smidgen of applause, I ended my spiel noting that the DVD box of the Lara Croft movie advertises her as a superhero.

"Superhero?" I said. "She doesn't have any superpowers. Her male counterpart Indiana Jones isn't thought to be a superhero. What message does it send when a woman plays a straightforward hero in an action film, we give her a fantastical label like ‘superhero'?"

It wasn't the crux of my paper, but I thought I was a good point.

I ended, got an enthusiastic ovation of golf claps mixed with people coughing—typical of an academic audience—and sat down to join the rest of the panel.

The panel chair was up next. She read from her seat about depictions of female DJs in cinema. How they're misrepresented as being incompetent with the station equipment, and how real-life female station managers catch a lot of flak from their male co-workers, who assume them incompetent as well.

It was good stuff, but all I was thinking about was the blonde from San Francisco I met last night, and was it too soon to call her? She had given me her phone number when all I asked her for was her e-mail address. A sign?

Suddenly, the panel was over. We scheduled 30 minutes to take questions from the audience, mostly grad students and Ph.D.s.

Would I seem desperate if I called after only one day?

"But Indiana Jones is a superhero."

What? Oh, a question directed at me from the audience. Not a question, a statement, from a woman who wasn't the blonde from San Francisco.

It finally hit me what she said, and I resisted countering her argument with a "Nuh-uh," knowing full well a Ph.D. could come back with "Yeah-huh."

"Indiana Jones doesn't have superpowers," I said, thinking that was the end.

"But Batman doesn't have superpowers, and he's considered a superhero," she said.

"Batman lives in a universe with other super-powered people, and he has a costume."

"Jones interacts with superpowered things all the time, like the Arc of the Covenant, and he has a costume."

"The Arc of the Covenant is of more of a deus ex machina than a character he interacts with. And his costume is a hat and a leather jacket, normal things. People don't dress up in bat suits. Well, normal people don't."

"I'm going to table this conversation," said the panel chair after our squabble of Jones' superheroness went on for another ten minutes.

"We have other questions from the audience to get to," the chair said, "the gentleman in the back had a comment."

"Actually, I was happy watching that play out," he said.


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